When Joe Gomez joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) as its sole Latino employee, he told friends that the anti-immigration organization’s reputation as a hate group was unfounded.
But after enduring months of racist slurs, mockery of his medical condition and racialized abuse from FAIR’s top management and executives, Gomez said, he filed a complaint with Washington D.C.’s Office of Human Rights. A copy of the complaint was provided to The Daily Beast.
“When I first joined, as hokey as it made sounds, I thought, ‘they’re FAIR —they’re supposed to be fair!’” Gomez told The Daily Beast. “But based on my experience with that organization and what happened, I don’t know, I think my opinion is beginning to change.”
The complaint, filed over the weekend, alleges discrimination based on race, disability and national origin and cites material damages including retaliation and the withholding of a promised bonus.
“I played the role pretty well,” Gomez said. “But I couldn’t lie to myself anymore.”
Gomez, a former correspondent for NBC News Radio, joined FAIR as the organization’s press secretary in November 2017, after an undercover assignment in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, convinced him that immigration reform was a critical issue facing the country.
“I lost a lot of friends because I joined,” Gomez said, due in part to FAIR’s designation by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group with a penchant for racialized criticism of both legal and illegal immigration into the United States. But the group, Gomez felt, had moved past its founder John Tanton’s embrace of eugenics and alleged coziness with American neo-Nazis, closer to a more mainstream skepticism of current immigration policy.
“They’re not really a hate group,” Gomez reasoned at the time.
But the words and actions of his new coworkers would swiftly undo Gomez’s optimism.
Over the next nine months, Gomez told The Daily Beast, he was subjected to “racial comments, racially charged comments, racial slurs,” and continual mockery for his inability to speak Spanish despite being Mexican-American.
“When I first joined... I was the only Mexican-American employee there,” Gomez said, a trait that was routinely remarked upon by management, including Dan Stein, FAIR's president, and Dave Ray, FAIR’s communications director and Gomez’s immediate superior.
“There was a lot of making fun of me for not speaking Spanish, or being Spanish,” Gomez said. When entering the room, Ray would frequently say things like “hola, hombre” and “que pasó” to Gomez.
“It was kind of unnecessary in a professional setting,” Gomez said. “I’ve certainly never experienced anything like it before.”
Stein, Gomez said, would routinely mock his inability to speak Spanish, interrupting unrelated meetings by pointing to his employee and saying: “This guy’s last name is Gomez, and he doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish!”
On another occasion, Stein entered Gomez’s office and skeptically eyed a map of Latin America that Gomez kept hanging on his office wall.
“Why the hell do you have that on your wall?” Stein remarked disdainfully, according to Gomez. He then suggested Gomez replace it with a map of the United States.
Apparently encouraged by this climate of hostility, other FAIR employees went even further. Two of the most shocking instances, Gomez, said, involved Jennifer G. Hickey, a web content creator for FAIR whose past works have including defending President Donald Trump’s use of the word “animals” to describe immigrant gang members and alleging that the H-1B visa program steals American jobs.
“I was looking at a cartoon that I had narrated about chain migration,” Gomez said, along with Hickey and a videographer. Hickey observed the video and remarked, “Look, there’s a bunch of spics jumping all over each other.”
FAIR’s director of digital communications strategies, Gabriela Trainor, overheard the remarks, Gomez told The Daily Beast.
“The crazy part is that a member of management heard this” and did nothing, Gomez said. “The president, all these directors, all this management involved, and they expect me to go to human resources?”
Gomez’s complaint may explain why Trainor may not have interpreted Hickey’s use of a racial slur as problematic. While preparing for the trip to San Diego, Trainor allegedly offered to pretend to be an “illegal alien from Mexico” in the documentary Gomez was was planning to produce by smearing herself with mud.
On another occasion, Gomez was informed that while he was co-hosting a Facebook Live event with a white colleague, Hickey remarked while watching that “There’s the spic, and there’s the hick.”
When contacted by The Daily Beast, FAIR responded with a statement declaring that “at all times Mr. Gomez was treated with dignity and respect at FAIR.”
“At no point during his employment at FAIR did Mr. Gomez file any grievance or complaint with respect to any aspect of his employment,” the statement read. “This Complaint is the first notice that FAIR received for many of Mr. Gomez’s allegations of wrongdoing. FAIR takes allegations of discrimination and harassment of any kind seriously. FAIR intends to fully investigate the allegations asserted in Mr. Gomez’s Complaint and respond pursuant to the legal process. FAIR stands by its nearly 40-year record of embracing diversity in employment and ensuring a safe and positive work environment for all of its employees.”
Hickey did not respond to phone messages or emails, and locked her Twitter account on Monday afternoon. Trainor declined to comment.
For nine months, Gomez tried to ignore or moderate his discomfort with the way that his colleagues discussed immigrants and immigration, a process that he compared to “indoctrination.”
For example, “I thought the word ‘illegal alien’ was offensive, but they made me use it on the air,” Gomez said.
Outside of work, Gomez was having a harder and harder time explaining why he worked for an organization that couched its work in borderline-racial terms. When visiting his grandmother in a nursing home, Gomez said, even she seemed disappointed in his new vocation.
“She asked me, ‘mijo, why are you working for those people.’ I told her it was just a job, a paycheck—she was remarkably disappointed in me. That was another big moment that hit me.”
The breaking point, Gomez said, came in July, when Bob Dane, FAIR’s executive director, pressured the press secretary to line up a long list of high-profile speakers for an event scheduled to start less than two weeks away. Gomez, who takes medication for anxiety, began shaking from the stress.
“Whenever I get very nervous, I just start of uncontrollably shaking, and I take a lot of medicine for me, because I have a lot of severe anxiety—probably because of that job,” Gomez explained.
Dane “took a little bit of joy watching me shake,” Gomez said. “He smiled and looked at the intern and shared a laughing watching me kind of tremble in fear, panic—I was having a panic attack.”
Gomez didn’t sleep that night—although, he said, “I had trouble sleeping while working there” most of the time—and the next day, contacted FAIR with his resignation. When the organization tried to get him to return to the office for some personal effects, Gomez told them he’d prefer not to have his things.
“There’s no way I’m going back into that office ever again,” Gomez said.
Regardless of what happens with his complaint with the District—Gomez is just happy to no longer be working at FAIR. Gomez plans to donate the lion’s share of any financial settlement reached with FAIR to a charity supporting migrants.
“After working at FAIR, I think I owe it to them,” Gomez said.